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November 23, 2023

Digital Twins and Cybersecurity: Making the most of their power

Digital twins are one of the most promising technologies of the moment and are already transforming many sectors. Their applications include product prototyping, “human prototypes” used in medicine, recreation of spaces, simulation of campaigns, and so on.

They are a fundamental factor when designing smart cities, and another of their most recent functions is to help preserve the cybersecurity of companies and organizations. We explain how they do it and the risk factors to take into account.

What does a digital twin bring?

Digital twins are not traditional mock-ups or ordinary digital models. They are intrinsically linked to their physical counterparts, whose primary function is extracting and executing data in real-time. Hence, they are tremendously useful when a real product, machine, or space cannot be inspected, but its digital twin can.

They have become the perfect ally in industries such as manufacturing, providing a wealth of operational data and helping to predict, for example, when parts will start to fail and require maintenance.

Because manufacturing processes produce such large data sets and are so repetitive, it creates opportunities to detect anomalies that stand out, including cyber-attacks.

What are Cyber Digital Twins?

Digital cyber twins enable the analysis and protection of physical systems with minimal impact on processes and infrastructure. They facilitate non-invasive infrastructure assessment, prototype novel integrations, provide incident training for personnel, identify critical assets, and more.

Like any digital twin, they are high-fidelity virtual representations of a physical component, asset, process, or environment. They provide a real-time automated platform that can be leveraged to simulate attacks and visualize automated system responses to identify potential risks.

Advantages of digital twins in cybersecurity

The benefits and advantages of digital twins are numerous, and there are many more to come, but these are some of the key ones:

  • Tailor-made solutions: one of the main features of digital twins is that they allow the creation of specific virtual versions of each structure to obtain predictive analytics adapted to the needs of each case. This becomes a personalized way of adapting security to each company.
  • Adaptability: companies can proactively devise measures to defend themselves against possible attacks, while at the same time modifying costs if they want to introduce new systems.
  • Automation: Digital twins allow companies to quickly identify weaknesses in their systems and automate them, maximizing staff efficiency to strengthen security at all points.
  • Accuracy: Unlike other cybersecurity defenses based on assumptions, with a digital twin, you can determine with certainty whether they really are. With digital twins, you can experiment freely with each company’s cyber defenses at all levels, preparing what-if scenarios and ensuring that all possible cases are covered.

In short, digital twins give companies a competitive advantage on their way to security.

How can digital twins protect against a cyber-attack?

We may not think about it at first glance, but digital twins can bring a lot to the field of cybersecurity.

As mentioned above, a digital twin allows you to replicate the behavior of security systems in the face of potential attacks, which is very useful in detecting breaches or weaknesses so you can attack them in time.

As devices such as bots and other equipment become remotely accessible, new entry points for malicious attacks are created. These can be very subtle and, therefore, difficult to detect or differentiate from other routine problems. If a digital twin enters the scene, it will collect operational data of what is happening (sensor data, error signals, digital commands issued) that will support cyber-attack detection.

One example is a study by NIST and the University of Michigan, which created a framework involving a new strategy to test digital twins for tighter cybersecurity. They built a digital twin to emulate the 3D printing process and provided them with real data from their own lab’s printer. As the printer built apart, computer programs monitored and analyzed continuous data streams, including the measured temperature of the physical print and the simulated temperature that the digital twin calculated.

At that point, the researchers launched perturbations against the printer, alternating between innocent perturbations and more aggressive ones. Machine Learning-based programs with pattern recognition trained on standard operating data were used to distinguish malicious attacks from routine anomalies. Thus, the digital twins could recognize what the printer would look like under normal conditions and what would be out of place.

If these models detected an irregularity, they sent the information to other models that would check if the strange signals matched something in the library of known problems. The system then categorizes the irregularity as an expected anomaly or a possible cyber threat. Finally, a human expert is in charge of interpreting the data and making a decision. 

Points to be taken into account

In many cases, it only takes a single attack on a supply chain to bring down an entire operation. In the midst of Industry 4.0 and the already initiated 5.0, the digitisation of assets has become a very powerful and dynamic tool to bridge both worlds, also in the field of cyber security.

We have talked about the advantages of a digital twin when it comes to maintaining the security of the assets in our company, but there are also other aspects that could be dangerous to pay attention to.

The main point to bear in mind is that, by creating a digital twin, the access points to the system are duplicated in the event of a cyber-attack. In other words, if a hacker gains access to our digital model, they would also be gaining access to information from the real asset, which could lead to the sharing of classified, operational, or customer information

That is why it is so important to protect the sensitive information that this powerful technology holds, and an expert partner is the key in these cases. As we mentioned in the example of the previous point, a professional is in charge of analyzing the results and making the decision accordingly; it is not all in the hands of the machines.

At Plain Concepts, we provide you with the best teams in cybersecurity and innovation to protect your most valuable assets through personalized services, support, and advice throughout the process. If you want to know how or if you want to start your digital twin project, do not hesitate to contact us!

Elena Canorea
Elena Canorea
Communications Lead